Experience at church tough on woman
Two years ago I moved here to California from West Virginia, part of the Bible belt. The experiences I describe, though, could happen wherever any group tries to dominate anyone they deem easy prey.
I consider myself a liberal. I believe in civil rights for all people, including gays. I don’t believe in censorship, and while I don’t believe in abortion for very personal reasons, I have no patience for right-to-lifers whose bizarre tactics leave little doubt as to whether they have any regard for life at all.
Yet for five years I watched what books I read, gave up going to movies, only rented “family” videos, and stopped playing bridge, a game I enjoyed sharing with my Dad. It was because I became a member of a very right-wing church I prefer not to name.
My argument is not against Christianity, but against the perversion of Christianity into a weapon. Much has been written about the influence of right-wing churches on our nation as a whole. Little has been written about its impact on individuals who are, at best, vulnerable.
These individuals, lured by promises of love and fellowship, soon find themselves in the quicksand of legalistic dictates which, they are continually told, they must adhere to or be condemned to a horrific fate. Even those who are said to have been saved from drug addiction have only switched from one dependency to another.
I was a rare find for the church. Not only was I a person with a disability – a cripple, as they would say, someone they could heal – but I was also a converted Jew. Of course, I had already converted to Christianity and joined another church, which was conservative but not oppressive.
My “new” church wasn’t satisfied. They had the only Truth and wanted me as their own.
Why did I join? One of my good friends was a female minister there, and the church seemed warm and loving. It was – but there was a dark undercurrent I didn’t notice at first, an undercurrent of unyielding dogma that offered no pity to any soul who might stray outside its boundaries.
Soon, though, as I listened to sermon after sermon on how other churches worshipped false gods and how women who cut their hair or wore makeup were damned, I began to realize how unforgiving my new dogma was. My new congregation resented any friendships I might retain from “when I was in the world.” They especially resented a retired English professor I knew. Not only was she black, but they knew she could help me keep my head on straight.
I always turned to my faith to give me strength to accomplish whatever I was meant to accomplish. To my new church, though, the only way I could prove I really believed was to become healed from my cerebral palsy. They couldn’t seem to understand that it takes a few seconds of faith to get healed but a whole lifetime to overcome.
I found it hard to break away, even though I began crying when the time grew near for me to go to church. Then I began crying at church because I wanted to be anywhere else but there.
Finally, when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my church “friends” told me he was damned if I didn’t get him saved, I knew the time had come to leave.
At my dad’s wake, I confessed my plight to an old college friend who knew a clergyman who was both understanding and inclusive. After I finally got up enough courage to contact him, things began to turn around, and I was free once again.
Looking back, I’ve tried to understand what drew me and what draws countless others into such a deceptive web of repression. Maybe if the more established, mainstream churches could offer some of the same fervor, the zeal without the coercion, so many more could find the true healing balm of faith.
Shirley Klein, author of two published poem books, moved to California from West Virginia in August 2002. She retired from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation where she worked as a writer for 27 years She also wrote for the Charleston Gazette. Ms. Klein went through school on the homebound program but later went to Marshall University where she earned a BA in English. She has given readings throughout the East and England. An advocate for civil rights in West Virginia, Ms Klein has had her poems read during rallies at the state Capitol in Sacramento. She moved to Rough and Ready in October of 2004.
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